PEG Helps 16 Students Continue Their Education in 2015-16
By Maureen Kalil
Sixteen burn survivors are furthering their education in 2015-16 with the financial assistance of a Phoenix Education Grant (PEG). The scholarship program was establish 14 years ago when Barbara Kammerer Quayle, a school teacher at the time of her burn injury, had a vision to give survivors the confidence and hope that further education would bring. That year she provided the initial funding for the first national survivor scholarship. Since then, countless donations, including a major commitment by AlloSource, have funded recipients. In 2013, the company, one of the nation's largest nonprofit providers of skin, bone, and soft tissue allografts, pledged a $250,000 donation, which will be made over 10 years, to the PEG program, enabling many more burn survivors to achieve their educational dreams.
Santana Henderson-Jones of Arkadelphia, Arkansas, who was burned 24 years ago as an infant, admits that she didn’t “empower herself to resume life to the fullest till her later youth years.” It was in college that she says she “truly unfolded as a person.” There she joined a variety of organizations with a goal of facing “uncomfortable situations” in order to become more “dynamic.” This fall she entered the nursing program at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, to prepare for a career as a pediatric burn nurse.
Hannah Patenaude of Charleston, South Carolina, who was also burn-injured as an infant, says her life experiences have guided her toward a career goal of becoming a pediatric, reconstructive surgeon. She began that journey this fall as a freshman at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where she is majoring in biochemistry. Hannah, who has participated in her local burn camp each summer, as well as the 2011 IAFF International Burn Camp, explains that she must take the moment of unfortunate circumstances in which she was burned, along with the stories of her forever expanding camp family, and make them into something consequential.
Zachary Jensen, of Benson Minnesota, is at North Dakota State University in Fargo, studying nursing. Now in his second year, Zachary says he grows more and more excited at the prospect of helping others in the same way that nurses took care of him after he sustained burns to his feet as a toddler. Those injuries made it challenging for Zachary to participate in athletics in school, but he developed a strong work ethic that made being competitive possible. It also drove him to be very active academically, athletically, musically, and within his church and community. Zachary believes his college education, paired with the experience he is gaining as a personal care attendant and certified nursing assistant, as well as that work ethic, will enable him to become an amazing nurse.
Keneatha Perteet of Chicago, Illinois, also recalls the challenges she faced as a child with a burn injury. Although she says the years following her burn at age 9 were difficult, it was also the time during which she gained much of her strength, and learned empathy and compassion. Keneatha, who was influenced by the care she received more than 30 years ago, later used those “gifts” to take care of others by volunteering as a candy striper and eventually becoming a certified nursing assistant at Chicago’s Cook County Hospital, where she had been a patient. Having worked in a variety of health facilities since then, she is now enrolled in Resurrection University’s Nursing Program, where she plans to earn a bachelor’s degree. But Keneatha’s dreams don’t stop there. She hopes to one day become a nurse practitioner for pediatric burn survivors.
A high school graduate of the Class of 2015, Miguel Villa of Seeley, California, headed to the University of California, Davis, to study chemical engineering this fall. Inspired by the anesthesiologist who helped him transition from “a nervous little boy to a ready-to-go surgery patient” after his burn injury at age 10, he hopes to follow his undergraduate education with medical school. Miguel has plotted out his path carefully over the last 4 years, challenging himself physically and intellectually. He hopes as an anesthesiologist he will be able to combine his experience as a burn survivor with his medical expertise to help surgery patients get through one of the most difficult times of their lives.
Katherine Bostic, of Lawrenceville, Georgia, who is 1 of 5 of this year’s recipients who are receiving their second PEG, says that without the help of the Phoenix Society she would not have been able to experience the success she has had at the University of Georgia. There Katherine is studying speech communications and disorders, with the goal of becoming a speech therapist. Thinking back to her arrival on campus in the fall of 2014, Katherine, who was burned as a young child says, “A new school means new friends and people that don’t know your past.” Rather than avoiding questions about her scars, she has used them as an opportunity to share with others how the Phoenix Society serves burn survivors in extraordinary ways and how tissue donation can make a world of difference in someone’s life.
“Why should I live a life of regret and melancholy, when there are so many things that make life worthwhile and fulfilling?” remarks David Blosser of Jefferson, Pennsylvania. He recalls, being burned at age 4 was a huge obstacle—but it was an obstacle that he overcame, and he says, he is much stronger as a result. As a high school student David participated in numerous clubs, teams, and community activities, graduating as valedictorian. He is a freshman this year at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, pursuing a double major in biochemistry and Spanish. He says his desire to become a dermatologist is the result of his childhood accident. David hopes one day to use his medical training and fluency in Spanish to travel to South America and treat people with skin problems who otherwise could not afford it.
“While most were anticipating the end of the world at the turn of the millennium, I experienced what felt like the end of my world,” recalls Betty Wong of San Francisco, California, who was 14 years old when she sustained a burn injury. In fact that experience, according to Betty, guided the direction of her career path and life aspirations. Once she set her sights on becoming a registered nurse, Betty says she proactively worked toward her goal, earning a license as an emergency medical technician and certification as a nurse assistant. She hoped her experiences with both would help her gain a better understanding of patient care and therapeutic communication. Betty, who continues to work as an EMT and volunteer in her community, is completing her final year at San Francisco State University, where she will receive her BS in registered nursing this spring.
Marissa Bane of Raleigh, North Carolina also experienced a life-altering burn as a teenager. She too credits the experience with inspiring her to pursue healthcare as a career. She entered The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2012, where she is a student in the Gillings School of Global Public Health. Marissa, who volunteers as a Phoenix SOAR peer supporter at UNC Hospitals, is committed to addressing the disparities in healthcare worldwide, from the rural areas in her home state of North Carolina to sub-Saharan Africa, where she has researched burn prevention strategies for the region.
A little more than a year ago Niya Gray, of Hampton, Virginia, was within days of starting her senior year in high school when she was injured in a kitchen fire and explosion, an event she describes as “life-changing.” However, despite the surgeries, treatments, and therapies that followed, Niya maintained her status during her senior year as an exemplary student who continued to excel academically and participate in numerous extracurricular and volunteer activities. Inspired by witnessing the devastating effects of a rare neurological disease on a family member, she entered the College of William and Mary this fall to study neuroscience in preparation for a career as a neurologist.
Alexa Limato, of Highland Mills, New York, is attending Adelphi University in Poughkeepsie, New York, where she is pursuing a master’s degree in social work. Alexa’s studies were interrupted at the beginning of her senior year in college when she was in an off-campus apartment fire. “My burn injury has only solidified what I already knew--that I want to be a social worker and that I want to help people overcome their own personal obstacles,” says Alexa. “I have always wanted to do something meaningful with my life and I like to think that out of the darkness that was a smoke-filled room I've gained so much more than just scars,” explained Alexa. “I've gained a reinforced and refocused purpose—to help others that have endured pain in any type of form or measure.”
Since suffering his burn injury in 2008, Daniel Betz, of Snoqualmie, Washington, says that supportive family, hard-working friends, and compassionate firefighters he encountered at camp during his recovery made a lasting impression on him and motivate him to be someone better. Daniel is working toward a bachelor of applied science degree, data analytics, at Bellevue College in Bellevue, Washington, where he has previously earned 2 associates degrees. Daniel hopes to land a job as a career firefighter and he believes that earning a 4-year degree will make him more competitive in achieving that goal. Daniel, who is currently employed as an insurance agent, also serves his community as a volunteer firefighter/EMT. “Though being a volunteer firefighter has been quite the commitment,” says Daniel, “it has given me great experience and reassurance that firefighting is a true passion of mine.”
Nathan Honeycutt, of Concord, North Carolina, believes that growing up in a small town had its advantages with his burn injury. Since his accident in 2013 he experienced an outpouring of support from family, friends, and school faculty and, he says, instead of a neverending struggle, he has experienced the joy of knowing the community had his back when he needed them the most. Nathan began North Carolina State University last year thinking he wanted a career as a game warden, but as a freshman he was introduced to Sustainable Materials and Technology, a field Nathan believes is a better fit. “What I want to do with my life is make a difference,” he explains. “I want to be able to wake up each morning and know that I will impact someone’s life with something I do today.” Nathan believes that with his degree he will be able to make a positive impact not only on individuals but on the environment in which we live.
Andy Smith of Bakersfield, California, says that after the nearly 50 surgeries he’s had since his injury in 2009, he is learning to slow down and embrace his own personal journey. That journey includes biblical studies at Southern California Seminary in El Cajon. Andy explains that his degree in biblical studies will empower him to articulate his faith and effectively minister to those that are hurting around him. He believes that there is a platform for each and every burn survivor if he/she eventually embraces new life after their burns. “This is my journey,” explains Andy, “to embrace life after burns, not as a do-over, but as a brand new, fresh start at life.”
Brooke Linman, of San Diego, California, was injured in 2007 while working a land wildfire. She endured months of surgeries, physical therapy, and major physical setbacks, but after 3 years of trying to return to firefighting, she realized those days were over. Like Andy, Brooke is pursuing a brand new, fresh start. She credits her involvement with the Phoenix Society, including the firefighter component of Phoenix SOAR, with helping her decide that in her next career she should help people who she could understand on every level—other burn survivors. Brooke is now studying psychology at San Diego State University. She realizes that she will eventually need a doctoral degree to fully achieve her goal, but Brooke, who has a specific interest in treating post-traumatic stress disorder, calls her bachelor’s degree “step 1.”
Todd Nelson of San Antonio, Texas, has faced numerous challenges since being injured in a bomb blast in Afghanistan in 2007. After enduring 43 surgeries and being medically retired following 16 years in the military, Todd was determined to prove that the enemy may inflict bodily damage, but they cannot break the American spirit. Since then, he has earned a bachelor’s degree in occupational education, has gone to work for the largest company in San Antonio, and is now pursuing an Executive MBA at The University of Texas at San Antonio. Todd has embraced opportunities to give motivational speeches since his injury, but he was determined not to just “talk the talk,” but to “walk the walk.” To do this, he says, he began to build a career that would motivate others—one that would show beyond a shadow of doubt that burn survivors do not have to accept a handout. “Amidst my disfigurement,” says Todd, “I went about bolstering a strong professional network and working my way into a position of influence for the primary purpose of proving to the world that it can, indeed, be done.”
If you would like to support future PEG scholars by contributing to the endowment that has been established, you can call the Society office at 800-888-2876 or donate online at http://www.phoenix-society.org. (Be sure to indicate that your donation is for “PEG.”)
If you are a burn survivor who is pursuing post-secondary education (college, university, graduate, or trade school), keep in mind that the PEG application for next year will be posted on the Phoenix Society website in early 2016. The deadline for submission is July 1.